Pila is a ski resort in the Italian Alps and without doubt it tops the charts when it comes to views – the outlook from the resort and runs are the most spectacular I have seen from a ski resort anywhere. I loved the pistes – long, sweeping runs with exhilarating steep sections, tree-lined idylls and wide open spaces. And it was affordable, with 6-day ski passes up to 100 euros cheaper than some other European ski resorts and reasonably priced food and drinks.
Access to Pila is good. We took a flight to Milan and from there caught a bus service that took around two-and-a-half hours to reach the heart of the Aosta Valley. From the town of Aosta there is a cable car gondola that whisks skiers up the mountain to Pila in just 17 minutes and cost only a few euros.
The Wandering Kiwi family hired a self-catering apartment in Residence Ciel – a private arrangement through one of those rent-out-your-home websites. At around 700 euros for the whole week it was very reasonable for the insanely busy and expensive United Kingdom February half-term holiday.
On the other hand Pila (like many things in Italy) does not appear to have had much refurbishment since it was built. Everything looks a little tired, from the slow lifts to the worn chalet restaurants. It was certainly quite a contrast to my experience skiing in Austria last winter!
When it was built, the Residence Ciel mountainside apartments were probably the last word in ski accommodation. Everything is well organised, with fold-out beds, table and so on. The bathroom is a good size and the apartment has a large balcony. Wear and tear is apparent; the wallpaper reminded me of shredded wheat. And there was no wi-fi. But overall this apartment suited our family ski holiday needs and budget well.
With views like these, who could complain? From our apartment windows we had beautiful views of the Mt Blanc massif and from up the mountain you could see the whole gammut of peaks, all the way around to the Matterhorn peeking over the horizon.
My only real disappointment with Pila as a ski resort was the ski school. It was was easy to book ahead of time but when we turned up it was really chaotic, with huge classes (of 18) and no real instruction at all. The children just snaked down the mountain following the teachers, the majority of whom had a style that was based mainly on machismo. Wandering Kiwi Jr stuck it out and her skiing improved a little but did not enjoy the experience.
I was put off getting any lessons this year but my skiing confidence nevertheless took an exciting leap forward. I skied black runs for the first time since I learned to ski nearly 10 years ago. Tipping off those top of the mountain runs was completely exhilarating!
We have a limited travel budget and in the school holidays could never afford to pay for a package ski holiday. Researching and booking everything myself meant our ski holiday cost less than half of what we would have paid for through one of the ski package companies. It meant more work, and some stress when we arrived at a new (to us) resort and had to figure out where everything was and how to organise things like ski hire.
Overall I would recommend Pila as a ski resort with excellent pistes and snow management (after five days of glorious sunshine the conditions were still strong). There was a great fun park with snow tubing for kids of all ages.
The food was mostly delicious, from the little supermarket to the unlikely-seeming restaurant in the basement of Residence Ciel. And one mountain restaurant had burgers cooking right beside the piste – they smelt amazing from the chairlift and they tasted even better!
I was convinced by the Italian Alps as a place to come skiing. And we had wonderful weather, which is never guaranteed on a ski holiday. Who could ask for more?
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you skied in the Italian Alps? Where would you recommend?